OFF THE WALL
Back to Trad. I’ve been playing away too long. Maybe I’ve forgotten how to set up a belay or how to insert a cam so it doesn’t take a walk? A weekend in North Wales was in order.
Perhaps I was being too optimistic about climbing opportunities in November – Snowdonia was as grumpy as usual. It rained and rained…and rained. But with determination and persistence some climbing was squeezed out of the sodden mountains - even though it wasn’t really climbing as I know it.
A Grade 1 Scramble was the realistic ambition for an unremittingly wet Saturday. We made our way through streams that used to be paths up the leeward side Carnedd Dafydd. The mountain lifted its skirt of cloud for a few minutes – enough to surprise us with a view – and then disappeared again. I did get my hands on some rock and there may have been some exposed moves, but mostly I couldn’t see further than the arse of the person in front of me.
The shrill wind discovered us as soon as we hit the top and threw handfuls of icy rain as we walked, heads down, into it for what felt far too long. I finished the day with that fashionable sand-blasted look, wet boots and expectations of a drier Sunday.
I woke to rain. There was one cheery soul who was insistent that ‘Lockwood’s Chimney’ was ‘just the ticket’: a 200ft Diff that the guidebook wryly recommends is climbed in the ‘worse possible conditions’ (and by moonlight preferably, but that just wasn’t going to happen). Perfect.
Seven keen/deluded climbers assembled at the bottom of the route after wading through the swamp that vaguely resembled Wales. I was to lead the second climbing group. Knowing the first lead to be very experienced, I grew increasingly uncomfortable as I watched him treat this easy route like a VS. As soon as I started I found out why – it was as slippery as slug slime. No: it was worse. Why had I chosen to shun rock shoes? I made anxious but delicate work of the first slimy slab and took a good piece of advice to stick a Hex in the crack running alongside the second slimy slab – because I slipped and fell.
Shame of falling on a mere Diff route was eclipsed by the excitement of my first fall on my own gear placement. I was positively buzzing with the accomplishment of successfully protecting myself. After I’d settled down a bit I tried again, but the slime won and I accepted the offer of a top rope with enthusiasm. I passed on the favour to the leader of the third group after he decided he was allergic to slime too.
We then became a loose gathering of people up a welsh crag in the rain joined by pieces of rope. Strange what we do for fun isn’t it? We let the gallant leader deal with the slip and slurry and followed him like rats up a drainpipe.
It might as well have been a drainpipe – it felt like it at times. Where the deep dark cleft wasn’t steep it was narrow – and it was dripping with water…but it was comical. I scrabbled rather than climbed, like a cartoon character, feet moving rapidly without any propulsion. I fought, elbowed, wriggled and grunted my way through the damp murky passage feeling very glad I’m of slender build. Others (beer lovers) weren’t so lucky, but it did give me an opportunity to pass remarks like ‘get a move on fatty’.
At the top I popped out like a cork into the stinging rain and wind with all my hard sharp bits black and blue, but laughing. It had been a ‘climb’ that involved a mix of the choicest obscene language and hilarity: certainly perfect for a wet morning’s entertainment. And oddly enough it had provided some good opportunities to test my ‘skills’ - I can place a mean Hex. I ended the weekend aching but still elated with this knowledge. It hadn’t bruised my confidence. I just want it to stop raining now…
Posted by fishinwater
I tried to go climbing in South Wales this weekend… and failed.
I should have realised it was going to be a trial as soon as I heard the rain throwing itself at my bedroom windows. But I still have blind faith in a forecast declaring it will all be OK by lunchtime. I should have thought again when I saw blacker than black clouds frog-marching across a black sky, and I should have turned back when the Severn bridge was closed to anything bigger than a doughnut. But it was the first Sunday in November, before the reality of winter hits - when there’s still motivation and cruel hope.
My equally hopeful partner and I knew Plan A was already in the bin - Sports routes at Tintern Quarry were not to be part of our day. He’d already prepared a Plan B - a trip to the National Climbing Centre of Wales. Sounds impressive doesn’t it? Its reputation had found a place in my selective memory, so we crossed the valleys of South Wales in a storm of horizontal leaves until we came to one of those sterile villages which make you glad you weren’t brought up there. On the outskirts of this essay in ennui we could see the place - imposing enough to raise our hopes.
Anticipation was confounded as I turned down the approach road. Why were large pieces of the fence lying on the tarmac, their still-attached nails waving hello to my tyres? A strange welcome. Having pushed aside the dangerous weapons we arrived at a clearly deserted building, which on closer inspection revealed its notices of closure. Pressing our noses against the windows, we peered in to see what we’d missed – and it looked annoyingly good. I didn’t chastise the creator of Plan B as he creatively came up immediately with Plan C.
Another drive across the hills and valleys of, by now, mid Wales. Under the doubtful gaze of a sodden Pen y Fan, we entered an activity centre that stank of horses (which makes a change from the foul stench of rock shoes).
You shall know a route setter by their route. I’m coming to believe that the character of a route setter is revealed by their art. At my local wall there’s the one who has a sense of humour: he lulls you into a false sense of security until, just in the final moves, it all gets horribly tense (usually horribly small and horribly sparse). There’s the person who’s got a touch of OCD and has to keep everything neat and tidy – by having as few holds as possible. There’s also someone with a chip on his shoulder, clearly embittered against the world. He likes to make your life as difficult and as awkward as his.
At this climbing wall in mid Wales, the route-setter was either an alien with an extra limb, or a psychopath. I can only assume he (she?) inhabits a different world to the rest of us. We started with alacrity and enthusiasm on a 5B as a warm up – and gave up. We moved on, blaming fatigue, to a 4+, saying ‘ how difficult can it be?’ - and had a fight with it. We tried again and again, and peeled off more than we finished. There was no logic at all; there were dead ends, red herrings and huge gaps.
The refrain of: ‘How difficult can it be?’ was by now reducing me to tears of hysterical laughter. At times it felt as if the holds had been thrown at the wall and fixed where they’d made contact. ‘What the hell are the 7A’s like?’ I wondered aloud. If my climbing career had started here I don’t think it would have been a very long one.
I’ve never been so uninspired- I couldn’t even rise to the challenge. It was just too perverse, confusing and frustrating. So we gave up and went to a nice café in the local town to drown our sorrows with sugar-laden carbohydrates.
I suppose I learnt something – some days it’s best to stay at home (and it made me appreciate the talent (sanity?) of the route setters at my local climbing wall).
Posted by fishinwater
A globally-warmed wet week in the South of France in 2008 - my first climbing holiday away from this grey Island since my obsession started. It was unremarkable except for a misplaced body jam that all went horribly wrong and a lot of Germans crashing about at the local crag.
This year I had an ambition for deep water soloing somewhere warm, so pointed a finger at Majorca. For intricate yet petty reasons it didn’t happen, but I’m perverse enough to persist where ambition is concerned and conjured up what turned out to be a perfect alternative: I went to The Orange House on the Costa Blanca. I’d compromised with my inner self and expectations were downgraded to a week of sports climbing … but life has a habit of pitching a good ball when you least expect it – and I caught this one .
Climbing friends have never stinted with their praise for the Orange House, and I found myself there with 2 unknown co-enthusiasts (I filled the ‘dropped out at the last minute’ driver/climber space). We climbed 3 out of the 5 possible climbing days, contending with an infuriating deluge and a hired car stuck in a muddy rut on the other 2 (a nail-biting story involving a large Spanish farmer, a tractor and a tarantula). Coastal Sierra de Toix proved a good place to avoid inland rain, Sella provided a smidgeon of shade when the weather finally decided to be Spanish, and new routes at Echo valley were entertaining.
It was all good – so good I did the right thing and extended my stay, waving goodbye to the hired car (thankfully in one piece) and my new friends at the airport and getting on a bus back to the hideous town that is Benidorm. I was going to see what happened next – and it couldn’t have been better…
‘You’re going deep water soloing tomorrow’, I was told as I arrived back at The House to watch a party wrestle with tough steak on the barbeque. I was invited to participate in Labrador-like Rich Mayfield’s ambition to set 10 new routes on the steep curvaceous cliffs below Toix.
I consider DWS a perfect pastime. I don’t mind jumping off cliffs (providing I close my eyes) and I love the freedom from gear (especially if there’s no wet suit needed) – and with a welcoming sea, an unblinkered sun, fantasy scenery and 2 other enthusiasts, what could be more perfect?
It was a Bacardi Breezer day as we made our way over a WKD vodka sea in Rich's inflatable canoe. At the deep shelf made by the undercut of the butter-coloured cliff we became like excited children in a sweet shop, choosing likely-looking lines with friendly-looking ledges to drop off at a not too scary distance from the water.
It’s pure play: It’s totally exhilarating and totally fun. Freed from the trappings of both sports and trad climbing, all you have to do is climb – and that’s ultimately what it’s all about, isn’t it? Feeling into the smooth moves, with muscles and tendons readily obeying the impulse under the influence of the hot sun. Not too exertive for the smothering afternoon heat: Grade 5/ 5+ perhaps. The only part that I find less entertaining in the process is the dismounting bit (which is why I close my eyes – an amusing sight it would seem). I tried to shape my limbs arrow-like for gentle entry into the water, but did cock it up once. It hurts, as do the inevitable near-colonic wedgies.
So I returned triumphant to the grey Island with a new route in my pocket. This is the ultimate solution to the problem of route-finding - making it yourself. I’ll be able to find ‘Periscope’ again. No doubt about that.
(Actually the best bit was finding a 60m rope swing hanging over the water – and that’s when we really started to play)
Posted by fishinwater
The climbing novice and steep learning curves
Want to read my old blog entries? Browse through an achive of all my posts below:
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- December 2012 (1 post)
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- December 2011 (1 post)
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